Psalm 105
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The two historical Psalms which stand at the end of Book iv. are closely related. Psalms 105 is a Psalm of thanksgiving, recapitulating the marvellous works by which Jehovah demonstrated His faithfulness to the covenant which He made with Abraham. Psalms 106 is a Psalm of penitence, reciting the history of Israel’s faithlessness and disobedience. They present, so to speak, the obverse and reverse of Israel’s history; the common prophetic theme of Jehovah’s lovingkindness and Israel’s ingratitude. They have much in common with Psalms 78, with which their author was evidently familiar; but that Psalm is distinguished by its didactic and monitory character, and it combines the two strands of thought which are here separated.

Such a recital of the proofs of Jehovah’s faithfulness as is contained in Psalms 105 was very suitable as an encouragement to the community of the Restoration. If God had preserved the patriarchs, and made a nomad family into a strong nation, giving them possession of the land through which they wandered as strangers, He could again fulfil His purposes even through the feeble body of returned exiles (Isaiah 60:22). That these Psalms belong to the period after the Return from Babylon is evident, for they presuppose not only the Exile (Psalm 106:47) but the restoration of the Temple-worship. Psalm 106:47, which at first sight might seem to imply that no return had yet taken place, must be understood as a prayer for the completion of the restoration by the return of the Israelites from all the countries in which they were scattered. The repeated call to “give thanks to Jehovah,” to “praise Jah” corresponds exactly to the terms in which the function of the Levites is described in the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles (Ezra 3:11; Nehemiah 12:24; 1 Chronicles 16:4; &c.). On the other hand these Psalms are earlier than Chronicles (c. 300 b.c.). The festal anthem which the Chronicler introduces on the occasion of the translation of the Ark to Zion is a combination of Psalm 105:1-15 (= 1 Chronicles 16:8-22) with Psalms 96 (= 1 Chronicles 16:23-33) and Psalm 106:1; Psalm 106:47-48 (= 1 Chronicles 16:34-36). It is certain that the Psalms stand in their original form in the Psalter, and that the anthem in Chronicles is merely a compilation; for Psalm 105:1-14 is clearly but a portion of a connected poem, while there is an entire absence of connexion in Chron. between Psalm 105:22-23, and between Psalm 105:33-34. A theory has been advanced that the anthem is a later insertion in Chronicles, and consequently that the date of Chronicles does not fix a limit for the date of the Psalms; but this theory is improbable.

Though there is no marked strophical arrangement in Psalms 105, there is a certain symmetry in its plan. It consists of four nearly equal divisions.

i. The Israelites, as the seed of Abraham, the children of Jacob, are summoned to praise Jehovah for His faithfulness to His covenant with the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Psalm 105:1-12).

ii. He guarded them in their wanderings, and led Jacob into Egypt, after He had prepared the way by sending Joseph before him (Psalm 105:13-24).

iii. When the Egyptians oppressed the Israelites, He displayed His power in the judgements which led to their release (Psalm 105:25-36).

iv. He brought them out of Egypt, protected them and provided for their wants in the wilderness, and settled them in the land of Canaan, that they might serve Him by grateful obedience to His laws (Psalm 105:37-45).

O give thanks unto the LORD; call upon his name: make known his deeds among the people.
1. The LXX is probably right in placing Hallelujah at the beginning of this Psalm instead of at the end of Psalms 104. The two companion Psalms 103, 104 will then begin and end with Bless ye Jehovah; and the two companion Psalms 105, 106 will begin and end with Hallelujah.

The first verse is taken verbatim from Isaiah 12:4.

O give thanks unto the Lord] The LXX renders ἐξομολογεῖσθε, hence Vulg. and Jer. confitemini, ‘make confession,’ which may possibly be the primary meaning, from which the word derives its general sense to praise or give thanks. Psalms 106, 107, 118, 136 begin with the same invitation.

It is natural to connect these Psalms in which “Give thanks unto Jehovah” and “Praise ye Jah” (Hallelujah) recur so frequently with the function of the Levites “to praise and to give thanks” (1 Chronicles 16:4; Ezra 3:11; Nehemiah 12:24; &c.), and to regard them as composed expressly for the service of the Second Temple.

call upon his name] Rather, proclaim his name, as in Exodus 33:19; Exodus 34:5-6; cp. Deuteronomy 32:3.

make known his doings among the peoples] It was Israel’s mission to proclaim to the world Jehovah’s revelation of His character made known to them in the facts of their history. Cp. Psalm 9:11.

1–6. The Israelites are summoned to proclaim to all the nations Jehovah’s mighty doings for His people, and to stir up their own hearts to praise and thanksgiving by the recollection of His marvellous works.

Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him: talk ye of all his wondrous works.
2. sing psalms] Or, make melody. Cp. Psalm 92:1, note.

talk ye] R.V. marg., meditate: cp. Psalm 104:34. The primary meaning of the word is probably to occupy oneself diligently with: hence either to meditate upon, or as context and parallelism require here and in Psalm 140:5, to speak, discourse of, a meaning which the word regularly has in post-Biblical Heb.

his wondrous works] R.V., as A.V. in Psalm 105:5, his marvellous works. Cp. Psalm 96:3, and see note on Psalm 9:1.

Glory ye in his holy name: let the heart of them rejoice that seek the LORD.
3. Glory ye in his holy name] Cp. Isaiah 41:16; and see note on Psalm 103:1.

let the heart &c.] True devotion leads to deep inward joy which will find expression in thanksgiving. Cp. Nehemiah 8:10; Acts 2:46-47.

Seek the LORD, and his strength: seek his face evermore.
4. Two synonymous words are rendered seek in this verse. Both originally referred to the outward act of visiting the sanctuary, but both come to express the inward purpose of the heart as well. So far as they can be distinguished the first denotes the attitude of loving devotion, the second that of inquiry or supplication. To ‘seek Jehovah’ is the duty and the joy of the true Israelite. From His strength and presence alone can Israel derive the protection and blessing that it needs. His strength cannot here mean the Ark, as in Psalm 78:61.

Remember his marvellous works that he hath done; his wonders, and the judgments of his mouth;
5. Remember] Compare the frequent injunctions in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 7:18; Deuteronomy 8:2; &c.). But Israel’s history had been one long record of forgetfulness (Psalm 78:11).

his wonders] A word often coupled with ‘signs’ (Psalm 105:27; Deuteronomy 4:34; &c.) to denote the miracles of the Exodus.

the judgments of his mouth] Not the precepts of the law, but the sentence pronounced and executed upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians (Exodus 6:6; Exodus 7:4; Exodus 12:12).

O ye seed of Abraham his servant, ye children of Jacob his chosen.
6. Grammatically, his servant may refer either to Abraham or to seed of Abraham. The parallelism is in favour of the latter construction, and the LXX and Jer. actually read his servants: but exact parallelism is not always maintained, and Psalm 105:42 is decidedly in favour of connecting his servant with Abraham. For Abraham Chron. reads Israel.

his chosen] R.V. his chosen ones, to avoid the ambiguity of the A.V. Cp. Psalm 105:43; Psalm 106:5; Deuteronomy 4:37; &c.

This verse is to be connected with Psalm 105:1-5 : the form of address reminds the Israelites at once of their privilege and their duty.

He is the LORD our God: his judgments are in all the earth.
7. He, Jehovah, is our God] He stands in a special and peculiar relation to Israel the people of His choice: but He is no mere national Deity: His judgements are in all the earth; He exercises an universal rule over all nations as “the Judge of all the earth” (Genesis 18:25).

7–12. The theme of the Psalm. Jehovah has been true to the promise which He made to the patriarchs, to give them the land of Canaan.

He hath remembered his covenant for ever, the word which he commanded to a thousand generations.
8. He hath remembered] Rather, He remembereth. The Heb. perfect here expresses a general truth guaranteed by past experience. Chron. has Remember ye; but the exhortation is out of place here. Jehovah’s covenant is further described as the word of promise which he commanded (cp. Psalm 111:9), as it were enacting it as a law (cp. statute, Psalm 105:10, and Psalm 2:7). To a thousand generations (Deuteronomy 7:9), parallel to and synonymous with for ever, is to be connected with He remembereth.

With this and the following verses comp. the promise of Leviticus 26:42-45.

Which covenant he made with Abraham, and his oath unto Isaac;
9, 10. For the covenant with Abraham see Genesis 17:2 ff; Genesis 15:18; and cp. the promises, Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:14 ff. The oath sworn to Abraham (Genesis 22:16) was confirmed to Isaac (Genesis 26:3), and to Jacob at Bethel when he was on his way to Paddan-aram (Genesis 28:13 ff.), and again in the same place on his return, after his name had been changed to Israel (Psalm 35:9 ff.). The promise made to Abraham was renewed to Isaac and Jacob, because in their persons it was limited to a particular branch of Abraham’s descendants.

for a law] For a statute, or, decree, as in Psalm 2:7.

And confirmed the same unto Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant:
Saying, Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan, the lot of your inheritance:
11. The promise was made to the patriarchs individually (‘unto thee’), but in them to their descendants also; hence ‘your inheritance.’

the lot &c.] The Heb. chĕbĕl means (1) a measuring-cord, (2) a measured portion (cp. our ‘rod’): so, for your appointed inheritance. Cp. Psalm 78:55.

When they were but a few men in number; yea, very few, and strangers in it.
12. The Psalmist emphasises the marvellousness of the Divine promise by pointing out that it was made when the patriarchs were but an insignificant clan of protected aliens, and it seemed utterly improbable that they would ever become the owners of the land.

but a few men in number] Lit. men of number: a handful of men, easily counted. Jacob uses the same phrase of his family in Genesis 34:30.

yea, very few] The word may mean few in number, or little worth; here probably the former. Cp. Deuteronomy 7:7; Deuteronomy 26:5.

strangers] sojourners, foreigners under the protection of the owners of the country, without rights of citizenship. Cp. Genesis 21:23; Genesis 23:4.

When they went from one nation to another, from one kingdom to another people;
13. When they went &c.] And (when) they went &c. The A.V. treats this verse as (virtually) the protasis to Psalm 105:14 : the R.V. places a semicolon at the end of Psalm 105:12, and a full stop at the end of Psalm 105:13, and treats Psalm 105:13 as the continuation of Psalm 105:12. Either construction is grammatically possible, but that of the A.V. is preferable. Psalm 105:12 emphasises the conditions under which the promise was given, and concludes the first division of the Psalms Vv13-15 describe the migrations of the patriarchs among the different nations of Canaan, the Egyptians, and the Philistines, as recorded in the Book of Genesis. In all their wanderings Jehovah guarded them from harm, reproving even kings such as Pharaoh (Genesis 12:10 ff.) and Abimelech (Genesis 20, 26) on their account.

13–24. Jehovah’s providential guidance of the patriarchs in their migrations.

He suffered no man to do them wrong: yea, he reproved kings for their sakes;
Saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.
15. Jehovah’s words. Saying is rightly supplied.

Touch not] The phrase is suggested by Genesis 20:6; cp. Psalm 26:11.

mine anointed ones … my prophets] The patriarchs were not actually anointed, but the term is applied to them as bearing the seal of a Divine consecration in virtue of which their persons were sacred and inviolable. Abraham is called a prophet in Genesis 20:7 as an intercessor, and the term is applied to the patriarchs generally as the recipients of Divine revelation.

16 ff. The events which led to the migration of Jacob into Egypt.

Moreover he called for a famine upon the land: he brake the whole staff of bread.
16. And he called] So 2 Kings 8:1; Amos 5:8; Amos 7:4; Amos 9:6; Haggai 1:11. Observe the emphasis upon direct Divine agency in Psalm 105:16,

He sent a man before them, even Joseph, who was sold for a servant:
17. The famine in the land of Canaan (Genesis 41:54) was the instrument which He summoned to effect His purpose.

he brake &c.] So Leviticus 26:26. Bread is the staff, i.e. support, of life (Isaiah 3:1; cp. Psalm 104:15).

17. He had sent a man before them;

Joseph was sold for a slave.

Before the famine came, God had sent Joseph into Egypt to prepare the way for their migration thither. So Joseph himself says, “God sent me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45:5; Genesis 45:7; cp. Psalm 50:20), recognising that the hand of God had permitted the cruelty of his brothers in order to effect His purpose.

Whose feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in iron:
18. Whose feet] R.V. His feet. This verse is merely a poetical description of imprisonment. The narrative in Gen. does not hint that Joseph was severely treated.

he was laid in iron] I.e. as R.V., he was laid in (chains of) iron. But the Heb. literally means, (into) iron entered his soul; and his soul is not a mere equivalent for he, but denotes (though we have no word by which it could be rendered here) Joseph’s whole sensitive personality. He keenly felt the degradation and suffering of his unjust imprisonment. Thus the sense is substantially the same as that of the picturesque rendering of the P.B.V. which has passed into a proverbial phrase, “the iron entered into his soul[58].” This rendering, which is that of the Targ. and Vulg.[59], is defended by Delitzsch and others, but is questionable for grammatical reasons.

[58] Coverdale’s original rendering (1535) was, the yron pearsed his herte. The alteration in the Great Bible (1539) was no doubt suggested by Münster’s ferreum (vinculum) intravit usque ad animam eius.

[59] According to the present text, which has ferrum pertransiit animam eius. But as all the mss. of the LXX have σίδηρον διῆλθεν ἡ ψυχὴ αὐτοῦ, it seems probable that animam is a corruption for anima.

Until the time that his word came: the word of the LORD tried him.
19. Until the time that his word should come to pass

The promise of Jehovah tried him.

Two different Hebrew words are rendered word in the A.V. It seems best to understand them both of the word or promise of Jehovah communicated to Joseph in the dreams which excited the enmity of his brethren (Genesis 37:5 ff.). The promise of Jehovah is as it were personified as Jehovah’s agent employed to fit Joseph for his high station (cp. Psalm 119:50). It tested him, purified and refined his character (Job 23:10), as it led him through dark ways of humiliation, till the time came for him to be raised to the honour for which Providence destined him.

By some commentators ‘his word’ has been taken to mean Joseph’s word, either (1) his story of his dreams (Genesis 37:5 ff; Genesis 42:9), or (2) his interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams (Genesis 41:16 ff.). But ‘his word’ is not a natural expression for Joseph’s relation of his dream, and his liberation from prison took place before his interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream was verified by the event.

The king sent and loosed him; even the ruler of the people, and let him go free.
20. The king sent. &c.] Genesis 41:14
He made him lord of his house, and ruler of all his substance:
21, 22. See Genesis 41:39-44. Joseph, who so lately was ‘bound in prison,’ is invested with authority to imprison even princes, and in virtue of his wisdom is made the director of Pharaoh’s counsellors.

P.B.V. that he might inform (i.e. instruct) his princes follows the LXX (Vulg.) and Jer., ut erudiret principes eius.

senators] Lit. elders.

To bind his princes at his pleasure; and teach his senators wisdom.
Israel also came into Egypt; and Jacob sojourned in the land of Ham.
23. Israel also] So Israel; the great ancestor of the nation is still meant.

the land of Ham] Cp. Psalm 105:27; Psalm 78:51.

And he increased his people greatly; and made them stronger than their enemies.
24. And he made his people exceeding fruitful,

And made them mightier than their adversaries.

Jehovah is the subject of the sentence. The A.V. fails to bring out the connexion of the verse with Exodus 1:7, “The children of Israel were fruitful … and were exceeding mighty.”

He turned their heart to hate his people, to deal subtilly with his servants.
25. He turned their heart] The rendering of the Targ., followed in P.B.V., Whose heart turned, is grammatically possible, but A.V. is no doubt right. The Psalmist does not shrink from attributing the hostility of the Egyptians to God’s agency, because it was due to the blessings which He bestowed upon Israel; and inasmuch as it led to the Exodus, it was a link in the chain of God’s action.

to deal subtilly] By their crafty plans for destroying Israel, Exodus 1:10 ff.

25–36. The enmity of the Egyptians to Israel, and the display of Jehovah’s power which prepared the way for the Exodus.

He sent Moses his servant; and Aaron whom he had chosen.
26. Moses his servant] Exodus 14:31, and often.

They shewed his signs among them, and wonders in the land of Ham.
27. They shewed &c.] Moses and Aaron. But the parallel passages in Psalm 78:43; Exodus 10:2 (cp. Jeremiah 32:20) make it probable that we should follow most of the Ancient Versions (LXX, Aq. Symm. Syr. Jer.) in reading the singular, He set; and this agrees better with the context, as Jehovah is the subject in Psalm 105:24-26; Psalm 105:28-29.

his signs] Lit. the acts or matters of his signs (cp. the acts or matters of his wondrous works in Psalm 145:5): i.e. his various signs: hardly, the words or message of his signs, “as being declarations of God’s will and command to let His people go.”

He sent darkness, and made it dark; and they rebelled not against his word.
28. It is difficult to say why the ninth plague (Exodus 10:21 ff.) is placed first here. Possibly, like the fifth and sixth, it was not originally mentioned, and the verse was the marginal gloss of a reader who noticed the omission, which was subsequently inserted in the text in the wrong place. If however the text is sound, perhaps the ninth plague is mentioned first, because it is regarded as the plague which wrought conviction in the minds of the Egyptians, who were already anxious that the Israelites should be allowed to depart (Exodus 10:7; Exodus 11:2-3); though the further plague of the death of the firstborn was needed finally to convince Pharaoh. The plague of darkness was specially calculated to inspire the worshippers of the sun-god with the sense of Jehovah’s power. The next line and they rebelled not against his words confirms this interpretation. ‘They’ must refer to the Egyptians, and the allusion must be to their change of feeling towards the Israelites after the plague of darkness, described in Exodus 11:2-3. Some commentators suppose that ‘they’ refers to Moses and Aaron, who did not disobey God’s commands, as they afterwards did at Meribah (Numbers 20:24; Numbers 27:14), but accepted their perilous mission. Such a statement however does not seem natural in the present context. Others read they observed not (שׁמרו for מרו). Others follow the LXX and Syr. in omitting the negative. So in effect Coverdale (following the Zürich Bible, ‘dann sy warend seinem geheyss nit gehorsam’), for they were not obedient unto his word; P.B.V. and they were not &c. But the remark would be out of place at the point when the resistance of the Egyptians had been overcome.

his word] So the Q’rç; R.V. his words follows the K’thîbh, which is supported by the LXX, Aq., and Jer.

He turned their waters into blood, and slew their fish.
29. After mentioning the crucial plague of the darkness, the Psalmist refers briefly to the other plagues, omitting however the fifth and sixth, and inverting the order of the third and fourth.

he turned &c.] The first plague, Exodus 7:14 ff., Exodus 7:21.

Their land brought forth frogs in abundance, in the chambers of their kings.
30. Their land &c.] R.V. Their land swarmed with frogs. The second plague, Exodus 8:1 ff.

He spake, and there came divers sorts of flies, and lice in all their coasts.
31. He spake, and there came swarms of flies (R.V.): the fourth plague, Exodus 8:20 ff., cp. Psalm 78:45 : and lice (or sand-flies or fleas) in all their borders: the third plague, Exodus 8:16 ff., not mentioned in Psalms 78.

their coasts] I.e. their borders.

He gave them hail for rain, and flaming fire in their land.
32, 33. The seventh plague, of hail accompanied by thunder and lightning, Exodus 9:13 ff., Exodus 9:25-26; cp. Psalm 78:47-48.

He smote their vines also and their fig trees; and brake the trees of their coasts.
He spake, and the locusts came, and caterpillers, and that without number,
34, 35. The eighth plague, Exodus 10:1 ff.; Psalm 78:46. The Heb. word yĕlĕq, R.V. cankerworm, as A.V. in Joel 1:4, is not used in Exodus. It probably denotes the locust in its larva state.

And did eat up all the herbs in their land, and devoured the fruit of their ground.
35. And ate up all the herbage in their land,

And ate up the fruit of their ground.

The Heb. word for ‘herbage’ is not confined to grass, but includes vegetable growth generally with the exception of trees (Psalm 104:14).

He smote also all the firstborn in their land, the chief of all their strength.
36. The tenth and last plague, Exodus 11:1 ff. As in Psalm 78:51, the firstborn are described as the beginning, or firstlings of all their strength. Cp. Genesis 49:3; Deuteronomy 21:17.

He brought them forth also with silver and gold: and there was not one feeble person among their tribes.
37. So he brought them forth with silver and gold:

And there was none that stumbled among his tribes.

Israel marched out like a victorious army, with spoils which were virtually the reward of their long compulsory service (Exodus 12:35-36); like a host of warriors in which none are faint or weary (Isaiah 5:27).

his tribes] Jehovah’s tribes (Psalm 122:4) rather than Israel’s (Numbers 24:2).

37–45. The Exodus, the miracles of the wilderness, and the settlement in Canaan.

Egypt was glad when they departed: for the fear of them fell upon them.
38. Cp. Exodus 12:33.

for the fear &c.] For dread of them had fallen upon them. Cp. Exodus 15:16.

He spread a cloud for a covering; and fire to give light in the night.
39. Exodus 13:21-22; Exodus 14:19-20. But here the cloud is regarded as a canopy to shelter them from the burning rays of the sun in the desert, rather than as a protection from the Egyptians. Cp. Isaiah 4:5-6.

The people asked, and he brought quails, and satisfied them with the bread of heaven.
40. The people asked] The Heb. verb is in the sing., but with LXX Jer. Syr. Targ. we should read the plural, They asked. See Exodus 16, and cp. Psalm 78:18 ff. The murmuring of the Israelites is not mentioned, because the Psalmist’s object is to point to God’s goodness, not to Israel’s faithlessness.

the bread of heaven] The manna: cp. Psalm 78:24-25; Nehemiah 9:15.

He opened the rock, and the waters gushed out; they ran in the dry places like a river.
41. the rock] In Rephidim, Exodus 17:1 ff. A different word (‘cliff’) is used in Numbers 20:8 ff. The language is borrowed from Psalm 78:15-16; Psalm 78:20 : cp. Isaiah 41:18; Isaiah 48:21.

For he remembered his holy promise, and Abraham his servant.
42. The Psalmist returns to his theme, Psalm 105:8. Faithfulness to His promise was God’s motive for redeeming Israel.

his holy promise] Lit., his holy word (Psalm 105:8): the sacred promise which cannot be broken.

and Abraham his servant] Or, with A. his servant (Psalm 105:9). Cp. Exodus 2:24. But the A.V. may be right.

And he brought forth his people with joy, and his chosen with gladness:
43. with gladness] With jubilant singing, the rejoicing on the shores of the Red Sea, Exodus 15. But the language is a reminiscence of the prophecies of the Exodus from Babylon, Isaiah 35:10; Isaiah 51:11; Isaiah 55:12.

And gave them the lands of the heathen: and they inherited the labour of the people;
44. And he gave them the lands of the nations,

And they took possession of the labour of the peoples.

See Deuteronomy 6:10-11.

That they might observe his statutes, and keep his laws. Praise ye the LORD.
45. The object of God’s favour to Israel was

That they might keep his statutes,

And observe his laws,

and obedience was the condition of their retaining these blessings. Cp. Psalm 78:7; Deuteronomy 4:1; Deuteronomy 4:40; Deuteronomy 26:17-18; and the terms in which the purpose of Abraham’s call is described in Genesis 18:19 (R.V.).

Praise ye the Lord] This Hallelujah is omitted by the LXX and Syr.; see note on Psalm 104:35 : but the recital of God’s mercies fitly concludes with a call to praise.

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